Review of The Trek and Other Stories - Mukai

Review published in Mukai// Vukani Jesuit Journal for Zimbabwe 52, April 2010

A Child tells Zimbabwe’s Bitter Story

Lawrence Hoba, The Trek and Other Stories, Weaver Press, 2009, 52 pp.

There must be countless ambitious young writers envying Hoba for his early success. What makes him succeed where others fail? I would say his simple language with which he describes the ‘taking of the land’ in sober detail, without any hyperbole or rhetoric. We see through the eyes of a child what happens to one family moving on to an ‘invaded’ farm.  Most of the ten stories of this slim volume of 52 pages accompany this one family, shifted from the ‘sandy reserves’ to the glory of the deserted farm house and back again to the old village. The storyteller sleeps in the bed of a white child uprooted with his family and driven out of his home. But so is the black child uprooted and homeless.

So much in these stories shows decay and disintegration. What makes these stories so real is that we are not lectured in the jargon of social engineering or political oratory. We meet people. Maria who claims independence not only for her country, but for herself, to the disgust of the war vets who maybe liberators, but think little of liberating women.

There is Mai Piki, the pious woman who gives herself to the travelling preacher. ‘Never again would she give her bosom to anyone when it was dark,’ she is determined as she is nursing his baby. In the anonymity of life on the farms men and women meet momentarily and drift apart again. “Not that he ever asked them their names”.

Rootless drifters, all of them, invaders and new farm occupants turn to the ancestors for protection. “Our war heroes had suddenly remembered that they needed the ancestors’ specialist protection against their enemies (an opposition that wanted to get all of them out of power, not the former white colonists)”. But such direct political references are rare.

Old man Kunaka loses all his family to AIDS. Little Cathy, fifteen but with the body of an eight-year-old, dies, following her parents. Why? “Mhama is calling me to come to her”. Or is it “God’s will”? But the phrase is meaningless and does not enlighten the mourners. AIDS seems to dislocate and disorient people even more than moving them to unknown destinations and back again.

Like a defeated army the settler family from the ‘sandy reserves’ withdraws. This is no political  pamphlet, there is no militant sloganeering. But the actual failure of the ‘rightful owners’ on the ‘ancestral land’ – though the ancestors have really nothing to do with it, it is all about lack of know-how, fertilizer, seed and irrigation pipes – told in painstaking detail, makes the point so much more effectively. The father is now more of a drunkard than before. The mother, hardened by the experience, takes comfort in her new possessions, the private property of the evicted farm owners, carried on the old ox-drawn cart to the ‘sandy reserves’.